Lauren B. Davis

Lauren B. Davis
Location
Princeton, New Jersey, United States
Birthday
September 05
Bio
Lauren B. Davis's new novel, OUR DAILY BREAD (HarperCollins Canada, 2012; and Wordcraft of Oregon, 2011), was longlisted for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and chosen as one of the "Very Best Books of 2011" by The Boston Globe and The Globe & Mail. Her next book, THE EMPTY ROOM, will be published in Canada by HarperCollins Canada in May, 2013. She is also the author of the bestselling and critically acclaimed novels, THE RADIANT CITY, (HarperCollins Canada 2005) a finalist for the Rogers Writers Trust Fiction Prize; and THE STUBBORN SEASON (Harper Collins Canada, 2002), chosen for the Robert Adams Lecture Series; as well as two collections short stories, AN UNREHEARSED DESIRE (Exile Editions, 2008) and RAT MEDICINE & OTHER UNLIKELY CURATIVES (Mosaic Press, 2000). Her short fiction has also been shortlisted for the CBC Literary Awards and she is the recipient of two Mid-Career Writer Sustaining grants from the Canadian Council for the Arts - 2000 and 2006. Lauren leads a monthly writing workshop in Princeton, New Jersey, teaches creative writing at the A.C. Wagner Correctional Facility, and is a past mentor with the Humber College School for Writers, Toronto, and past Writer-in-Residence at Trinity Church, Princeton. For more information, please visit her website at: www.laurenbdavis.com

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JANUARY 30, 2013 5:42PM

Mini-workshop: Conflict in Narrative

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Today's blog is a mini-workshop for writers, on the subject of conflict in narrative.

For emerging writers, one of the most important aspects of story-telling is conflict.  Something has to happen in a narrative, and what happens has to matter.  By which I mean that whatever your protagonist wants has to be IMPORTANT -- it has to have gravitas; it has to fully engage the reader.

The fictional tug of war between equal forces.
The fictional tug of war between equal forces.

And once you decide on that conflict -- what your character wants and why they can't get it -- the conflict must also be a power struggle between equal forces.  In other words, it is imperative the reader is left in doubt as to the outcome.

The antagonist can be one of the character's weaknesses, or society, or a windstorm, God, or another character. Even if the conflict is between the protagonist and him or her self, power should shift back and forth. One minute we think your hero will overcome her compulsion to sleep with strangers/to shoplift/to use drugs, the next we fear she will fail. . .

And, okay, here's where we get a bit more subtle.  Janet Burroway, in her book "Writing Fiction" says this:

There has been criticism over the years concerning the apparent patriarchal nature of narrative seen as a power struggle – seeing the world in terms of conflict and crisis – enemies and war.  This limits, the argument goes, not only literature but encourages an aggressive, antagonistic view of our own lives.  Further, the resolution notion is untrue to life, and holds up perfect, unity, and singularity as goals at the expense of acceptance, nuance, and variety.  Speaking of the “Gladiatorial view of fiction,” Ursula Le Guin writes:

People are cross-grained, aggressive, and full of trouble, the storytellers tell us; people fight themselves and one another, and their stories are full of their struggles.  But to say that that IS the story is to use one aspect of existence, conflict, to subsume all other aspects, many of which it does not include and does not comprehend.

Romeo and Juliet is a story of the conflict between two families, and its plot involves the conflict of two individuals with those families.  Is that all it involves?  Isn’t Romeo and Juliet about something else, and isn’t it the something else that makes the otherwise trivial tale of a feud into a tragedy?

 What is the ‘Something Else?”  Dramatist Claudia Johnson says:  “Whereas the hierarchical or ‘vertical’ nature of narrative, the power struggle, has long been acknowledged, there also appears in all narrative a ‘horizontal’ pattern of connection and disconnection between characters which is the main source of its emotional effect.  One is the Tower – the other the Network (to use the language of psychologists) the need to climb implies conflict, the need for community, is the network.  The need to win, the need to belong.  These forces also drive fiction and add, in fact, to the tension.

Which is to say, narrative is about people, about relationships and about yearning.  Even if you're writing a mystery/suspense novel involving a lot of car chases and gunfights, remember that people are involved in these scenes, and each of them desire something, each of them is yearning for something.  Make the reader care about whether or not they get it, and you're well on your way to writing something readers will want to read.

 

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Fiction is as powerful a way of studying psychology as any other.
Quite right, Jackie2! Thanks for the comment.